A neighbourhood fresh produce and butcher shop close to my Casa in Centro Habana. Prices were quoted in Moneda Nasional (CUP). This shop occupied an empty lot of an apartment block which is completely missing. Around this block, half empty buildings as parts of the structure had collapsed. In some buildings, bricks were exposed and only the facade of upper floors remained. The Cubans are resourceful and make the best of any situation.
Today I ventured towards Barrio Chinos, just behind the Capitolio on Calle Industria. Along the way, I met a hard working typical-looking Cuban man in a workshop. With his shirt off, baseball cap and a cigar, he made a great picture. He obliged. A major road work was in progress on this small scale industrial street. I passed a run-down train workshop or resting place. Strangely I just walk pass without paying further attention. I love train rides. A grand entrance marked this neighbourhood. It is a collection of outlets and was busy with people shopping and retailing. Strangely, I could not recall observing any Chinese. They once occupied this “barrio” in numbers in business and restaurants. With the onset of the revolution, a grim reminder of communist China, they packed up and left. There are a few remaining though.
A small park was packed with classic American cars of all shapes and size used as collective, shared taxis. Black fumes choked the area as the cars departed with their passengers. Further up, at Parque el Curita, a row of classic car all primed up and glossy just waiting for tourists’. There were hardly any around here today. This is a working class area of Centro Habana.
Cuban housing is in crisis to say the least. After the revolution, many homes were abandoned as some locals departed overseas mainly to US. With Castro’s policy of giving everyone a home, people were moved into these vacant apartments and buildings. Most of these dwellings are multi-family. However, over the last 50 years, these buildings have deteriorated in structure and quality. The state of plumbing and electrical wiring are all suspect and needing urgent repairs and replacements. Even a coat of paint is unaffordable. Nothing can be done today. Building materials are controlled by the State. Due to the poor economy, not much can be given to the public. Although housing is free, most locals can’t afford the upkeep with their meagre salaries. I noticed several electrical meters on the ground floors of apartments, not knowing whether it is working. Hoses run across roads in places where piped water is defunct or non-existent. The supply of these essential amenities are infrequent. The fitting and furniture are dated although usable. Roofs and ceilings do leak in the tropical weather. As such, many families are cramped into tiny apartments. Interestingly, the apartment of my Casa has a lift that worked. Some buildings, only the ground floor is habitable. The upper floors are just a façade with no floors. Electricity and water was available throughout the day. Throughout Centro and especially along the Malecón, many apartments and dwellings were being renovated and resulted in piles of building materials stacked neatly along the roads. They all aspire to be like the fully renovated buildings in Calle Obispo, in Habana Vieja. There exists an upper and upper-middle class of Cubans, perhaps from remittance from overseas. These homes are well kept and maintained. Like the villas in Miramar neighbourhood as I passed while on the red open-top bus. Buying and selling of houses is now permitted, legally. However, affordability by local residents is limited. Some along the Malecón has been bought up by migrant Cubans, particularly from US. Having said all that, Havana, with its crumbling colonial buildings, remained a romantic city. Minus the negative political climate, with a little cuba libre and son music, might even be paradise!
Cubans can swap properties with each other, a battering trade, but were unable to buy as all properties are deemed to be owned by the state. Each is allowed to own only one property. However, this had changed as properties can now be bought and sold in the open market. In Havana, it would be at Prado. Prices vary, some advertised at US22,000 to US25,000. Properties under renovation and being bought up are by overseas Cubans or through their proxies/families as foreigners are not permitted to purchase. With an onset of boom in tourism, more buildings will be renovated. However, materials must be available to start this new revolution. The poor will certainly not benefit directly. The gap widens in a so-called Socialist State where everyone is equal! Well, they are not! Socialism or Death, Castro’s words still reminded the Habaneros on walls and posters. Economically, a reality check is much needed.
On Prado, cars and shared taxis waited to ferry students back home. These students are lower secondary. The higher levels wear a navy blue uniform. The juniors wear a white top with a maroon scarf with maroon pants and skirts. Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, 99.7%!